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List of missing features in Excel Online

Occasional Contributor

Two related questions:

  1. Is there a maintained list of differences between the desktop and online versions of Excel?
  2. Are all the features in my list below actually missing?

I used to build very complex Excel applications with multiple workbooks, ODBC links to ERP systems, and so on. I moved mostly to Google Sheets for the online collaboration feature when it became usable enough. I just dipped my toes in the water of the Excel online world and I was badly disappointed. Here's my initial list of missing features that I needed on the first day and could not find:

  • Cannot create or edit named ranges
  • No macro support
  • No cell notes (can display notes created with desktop Excel)
  • No links to other spreadsheets
  • Can’t rotate text
  • No cell, workbook, or sheet protection
  • No checkboxes
  • No solver or other add-ins
  • Can’t edit or rearrange conditional formatting rules

I'm hoping I'm wrong about at least some of these. Every time I came up against a missing capability, I wasted time searching to see if it's really there, so a reasonably definitive feature list curated by actual users (or Microsoft themselves) would have helped.

 

 

 

16 Replies

@pbftvt 

Differences between using a workbook in the browser and in Excel

Excel for the web looks a lot like the Excel desktop app. However, there are some differences to be aware of. For example, not all file formats are supported, and some features may work differently than the desktop app. This article explains these differences.

In the End Please don't forget, Excel Online is FREE while it's traditional version costs about $ 129 for you to install it to your workstation. Excel Online is basically Microsoft's answer to Google Sheets.

So if you're familiar with how Google Sheets works, that's basically what Excel Online is: a free web-based platform.

 

I would be happy to know if I could help with this information.

 

Nikolino

I know I don't know anything (Socrates)

 

 

@NikolinoDE 

Thanks. I have found a few resources like that, but most of them (that one included) talk more about similarities than specifically what is missing. I really wanted something that says "If you need this capability, don't bother trying to use Excel online". Macros, links to other spreadsheets, named ranges, and protection are critical, for instance. All features that Excel desktop and Google Sheets provide, by the way.

 

Google Sheets was pretty limited in the early days, but has gotten much more capable. I expected Excel online to be even better - comparable to Excel desktop. Instead, it appears to lack a great many core features that are necessary for any serious application. I'm hoping that Microsoft continues to develop it, and the list of missing features gets shorter. For now, as far as I can tell, Google Sheets far surpasses Excel online for any serious spreadsheet work. 

@pbftvt 

 

You probably mean such a comparison. Click on the heading to continue.

 

Office for the web service description

Office for the web (formerly Office Web Apps) opens Word, Excel, OneNote, and PowerPoint documents in your web browser. Office for the web makes it easier to work and share Office files from anywhere with an internet connection, from almost any device. Microsoft 365 customers with Word, Excel, OneNote, or PowerPoint can view, create, and edit files on the go.

 

 

 

@NikolinoDE 

I had actually found that. It's really misleading, though:

  • It's interesting that they list macro support as 'Yes' with a footnote that says 'Can't create, run, or edit macros'. I'm thinking that should be 'No' with a footnote that says 'Won't damage macros'.
  • It says that sheet protection is supported, but as far as I can tell it's not.
  • It says 'Yes' next to named ranges with no footnote reference. It doesn't mention that you can't create or edit them unless you click through to the explanation of what 'Named Ranges' means.
  • It doesn't mention lack of notes, text orientation, or ability to edit conditional formatting rules.

Forgive me for venting a bit here, but I wasted a lot of time and embarrassed myself with a client based on the mistaken idea that Excel for the web was much closer to Excel desktop (or Google Sheets) than it actually is. A list of 50 features that are the same is not as useful as a list of 5 features that are missing. It may be good for some applications, but it should be easier to determine what it's *not* well suited for, especially since it carries the name 'Excel'.

@pbftvt 

Ultimately, it depends on the eye of the beholder.

It may well be better for a salesperson to know what Excel for web cannot do in order to illustrate the benefits of another product.

It may sound better if the Excel for web user knows in advance, what the software can’t do. Nevertheless, what use is it? ... if most of the users are beginners.

However, showing what is possible is always better in the long term.

 

Remember Excel for Web (or Office for web) is actually an entry-level software in the Microsoft world, at the same time this software is "free". So showing what it can do is always better because more users will use Excel for web with it. Excel for web does not compete with any of the other Microsoft products, Excel for web competes with other competing software like LibreOffice, GoogleSheets, OpenOffice, etc.

 

If the user knows that Excel for web can cope with tasks like other competing products, so knows what it can do and not what it can't do. At the same time, he also has the opportunity (which competing products cannot do so well or not at all), if he wants to expand the software with more options, simply with a subscription.

This will make choosing Excel for web a lot easier than any other competing product.

 

Of course, all of this is just my humble opinion.

 

Thank you for taking the time to read my opinion so far.

 

Nikolino

@pbftvt 

As a comment, from your initial list

  • No links to other spreadsheets

This functionality is under deployment now, some set of targeted users already have it

  • Can’t edit or rearrange conditional formatting rules

Also shall be soon.

 

More functionality is coming. But I think VBA will never be supported, at least directly. Now Office Scripts instead.

Perhaps I'm missing an important distinction. I'm not aware of any 'free' option, and that's not my use case. I developed a moderately complex application using licensed desktop Excel. It had multiple linked spreadsheets, macros, protected regions, and other goodies. In use, it needs to be accessed and updated by multiple simultaneous users in different locations, some of whom will not be part of the same domain.

I placed it all on my client's SharePoint and found out that it absolutely could not be made to work using web access. Whether web access is 'free' makes no difference - it does not appear that the spreadsheets I developed using licensed Excel can be used in the way I had intended.

I was hoping that I was wrong about some of the missing features, or at least that there was something to help other people in my situation in the future.
That is great information - thank you! Other than this forum, is there a feature roadmap for planning purposes? I would like to use Excel for this class of applications, but this has been a painful exercise for me. I guess I have to learn what 'Office Scripts' is at the very least.
best response confirmed by pbftvt (Occasional Contributor)
Solution

@pbftvt 

In theory Microsoft 365 Roadmap | Microsoft 365 , but not all functionality is mentioned here. Unfortunately there is no such source, that's different forums, twitter, etc. Word of mouth. 

Swapping cells doesn't work online
Highlighting or font color changing doesn't work either.
I try to find the file/options menu for changing the developer ribbon but I can't see any options if I click on it. I use office 365 online at office OneDrive online. There no subscription for premium. Do any one know maybe how to change the ribbon options ontherwise. Or is this not possible in this office version.
I'm sorry - I can't help you. I've given up on Excel online for now.

@Jal002 

Ribbon on Excel for web is not customizable. And it has no Developer tab at all, depends on subscription that could be Automation tab to work with Office Scripts Introduction to Office Scripts in Excel (microsoft.com)

@NikolinoDE 

 

To be fair, Google Sheets is also free. I've been a bit confused at Microsoft dropping features from excel over time. Excel 2011 had more features and capability than Excel 2016, which in turn has slightly more features and capability than the online Excel app as of right now. I jumped into an Office 365 trial for our small business to try to work with a large, complex data set that I was able to create a graph for on my old laptop in my old version of excel and the web app for excel can't handle the graph and doesn't have the convenient features to edit and work with data. This seems like a huge regression. Mind you, I mentioned that we started a 365 trial subscription for our business (and *may* start paying for it next month if it seems worth it, but as of right now I'm really not inspired. I would have wanted more functionality and versatility than a prior excel version if I'm going to be paying for a subscription).

 

I don't think it makes much of a comparison to say that "it's free and that's why it's missing features" when even the paid version is missing those features and functionality. Sure, you can have free vs premium tiers of a software and have the functionality go along with that, but to even have the paid version lacking functionality isn't really inspiring for such a mainstay software.

 

That's just my take and surprise from it.

It's been almost a year - I've developed several pretty complex applications using Google Sheets. It's pretty impressive at this point. It has a *very* sophisticated macro language and available libraries - it supports links to remote SQL databases for example. It's *far* superior to Excel online at this point, and can give Excel desktop a run for it's money in many use cases. The one pain point is linking to other spreadsheets. This is trivially easy in Excel desktop, awkward in Google sheets, and not possible in Excel online (afaik).